Big Ten: Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 3

September, 17, 2013
After mirroring picks in Week 2, we had several disagreements with the Week 3 selections. I fared better in those games and moved into a tie with Brian Bennett in the season standings, but both of us, like the league we cover, didn't exactly light things up.


Adam Rittenberg: 10-2, 31-5 (.861)
Brian Bennett: 9-3, 31-5 (.861)

Let's look back at the predictions made by each of us as well as guest picker Adam Fraser from Gilbert, Ariz.

Rewind time ...

Bowling Green at Indiana
  • Bennett's pick: Bowling Green 37, Indiana 34
  • Rittenberg's pick: Indiana 38, Bowling Green 35
  • Actual score: Indiana 42, Bowling Green 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both expected a much closer ballgame, but Indiana dominated for most of the way. Although Indiana got both Shane Wynn and Kofi Hughes involved in the pass game, wideout Cody Latimer had the breakout performance with six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Western Illinois at Minnesota
  • Bennett's pick: Minnesota 35, Western Illinois 13
  • Rittenberg's pick: Minnesota 37, Western Illinois 17
  • Actual score: Minnesota 29, Western Illinois 12
  • 20-20 hindsight: We came fairly close on the score predictions, although it took a late burst from Minnesota to make things look more lopsided than they were. Brian must have known something when he wrote that it's a good week to get quarterback Mitch Leidner some experience. Leidner relieved the injured Philip Nelson, completed 7 of 8 pass attempts and rushed for 64 yards.
UCLA at Nebraska
  • Bennett's pick: UCLA 38, Nebraska 34
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 35, UCLA 34
  • Actual score: UCLA 41, Nebraska 21
  • 20-20 hindsight: UCLA held up its end of the score prediction, while Nebraska seemed to fold the tent in the third quarter. Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley had three touchdowns, two shy of Bennett's forecast. Nebraska wideout Quincy Enunwa had two scoring catches, but neither was the game winner, as I predicted.
Akron at Michigan
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan 48, Akron 10
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan 45, Akron 17
  • Actual score: Michigan 28, Akron 24
  • 20-20 hindsight: Like the Wolverines, we didn't get much right here other than the winning team. Quarterback Devin Gardner struggled, but threw two touchdown passes, but none to Jeremy Gallon. Fitz Toussaint rushed for 71 yards, 49 shy of my prediction.
Youngstown State at Michigan State
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan State 27, Youngstown State 3
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 24, Youngstown State 10
  • Actual score: Michigan State 55, Youngstown State 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: The Spartans surged past our score predictions before halftime and flexed some muscles we didn't know they had following a sluggish first two games. We both expected Damion Terry to make his collegiate debut, but Michigan State got more than enough from quarterback Connor Cook (202 pass yards, 4 TDs).
Iowa at Iowa State
  • Bennett's pick: Iowa State 16, Iowa 13
  • Rittenberg's pick: Iowa 19, Iowa State 17
  • Actual score: Iowa 27, Iowa State 21
  • 20-20 hindsight: Brian thought Iowa State was the more desperate team, but Iowa played like it and dominated for much of the contest. Like I thought, the Hawkeyes' rushing attack, led by Mark Weisman (35 carries, 145 yards), proved to be the difference in Ames.
UCF at Penn State
  • Bennett's pick: Penn State 27, UCF 17
  • Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 34, UCF 27
  • Actual score: UCF 34, Penn State 31
  • 20-20 hindsight: I came close on the score prediction and had the winner's correct total, but both of us expected more from Penn State's defense against UCF standout quarterback Blake Bortles. Lions receiver Allen Robinson had one touchdown catch, one short of Bennett's prediction. Penn State's Zach Zwinak (128 rush yards, 3 TDs) sparked the run game, as I thought he would, but it wasn't enough.
Washington vs. Illinois (at Chicago)
  • Bennett's pick: Washington 37, Illinois 23
  • Rittenberg's pick: Washington 31, Illinois 21
  • Actual score: Washington 34, Illinois 24
  • 20-20 hindsight: I had the right winner and victory margin, although Huskies tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins wasn't much of a factor, as running back Bishop Sankey (208 yards, 1 TD) carried the day. Illinois didn't get off to the fast start I predicted as it failed to convert scoring chances in the first half.
Ohio State at California
  • Bennett's pick: Ohio State 49, Cal 28
  • Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State 38, Cal 27
  • Actual score: Ohio State 52, Cal 34
  • 20-20 hindsight: A strong score prediction from Brian, who expected big plays and plenty of Kenny Guiton and got both. I pegged Jordan Hall and the Ohio State rushing attack for a big game against Cal's overmatched defense. Needless to say, they came through (332 yards, 3 TDs)
Notre Dame at Purdue
  • Bennett's pick: Notre Dame 35, Purdue 7
  • Rittenberg's pick: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 17
  • Actual score: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 24
  • 20-20 hindsight: Purdue exceeded both of our expectations by giving Notre Dame a tough test for three plus quarters. I correctly pegged the Boilers for a strong start, but Notre Dame's Amir Carlisle didn't do much (16 rush yards) and Notre Dame recorded only one key second-half takeaway, not two.
Western Michigan at Northwestern
  • Bennett's pick: Northwestern 38, Western Michigan 10
  • Rittenberg's pick: Northwestern 41, Western Michigan 17
  • Actual score: Northwestern 38, Western Michigan 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: One of our better score predictions for Week 3, as Northwestern wasn't dominant but pulled away from Western Michigan. Brian correctly predicted Kain Colter to run for 100 yards. Colter and fellow quarterback Trevor Siemian combined for only two touchdowns, three shy of my prediction, and wide receiver Christian Jones hauled in only one scoring pass, not two.
Wisconsin at Arizona State
  • Bennett's pick: Arizona State 28, Wisconsin 20
  • Rittenberg's pick: Arizona State 35, Wisconsin 28
  • Actual score: Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30
  • 20-20 hindsight: Our score predictions weren't far off, and Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly (352 pass yards) proved to be a difference maker as the game went along, like I thought he would. Wisconsin signal caller Joel Stave didn't throw an interception (Bennett had him for two). And no, neither of us predicted the officiating crew to have a costly brain cramp.

You've seen how we performed. Now it's time to check on our guest picker, Adam Fraser.

Bowling Green 42, Indiana 40
Minnesota 30, Western Illinois 20
Nebraska 41, UCLA 37
Michigan 45, Akron 6
Michigan State 20, Youngstown State 13
Iowa 20, Iowa State 16
Penn State 24, UCF 13
Washington 31, Illinois 30
Ohio State 30, California 28
Notre Dame 38, Purdue 14
Northwestern 48, Western Michigan 10
Arizona State 34, Wisconsin 20

Adam matched Brian's mark of 9-3, although most of his score predictions left much to be desired. Some of his predicted nail-biters (Bowing Green-Indiana, Ohio State-Cal, Nebraska-UCLA) turned out to be blowouts, while games like Wisconsin-Arizona State and Akron-Michigan were much closer than the forecast. UCF and Penn State ended up in a high-scoring affair. Not bad overall, though.

Who's our next guest picker? Tell us why you should be the choice here and here.

Big Ten Week 3 primer

September, 14, 2013
Are you ready for Week 3 in the Big Ten? You had better be, as it's easily the best slate of nonconference games this season.

To get you ready for the big day -- and long night -- let's go through the vitals ...

Noon ET

Bowling Green at Indiana (ESPNU): After a disappointing loss to Navy, Indiana's challenge only gets tougher against Bowling Green, which has dominated its first two opponents. The Hoosiers' defense must tighten up against a more conventional offense led by running back Travis Greene. It will be interesting to see if Indiana coach Kevin Wilson actually uses Tre Roberson more at quarterback or sticks mainly with Nate Sudfeld.

Akron at No. 11 Michigan (Big Ten Network): Quarterback Devin Gardner tries to build on his five-touchdown performance against Notre Dame as the Wolverines face an Akron team that hasn't beaten an FBS opponent since 2010. Coach Brady Hoke wants to see a cleaner performance from his defense against the seemingly overmatched Zips.

Western Illinois at Minnesota (BTN): Yawn. The Gophers continue their march of cupcakes and should have little trouble improving to 3-0. Their main objective is sparking a passing attack that has produced just 226 yards in two games. Minnesota wide receiver Jamel Harbison returns from suspension.

No. 16 UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska (ABC): It's the biggest matchup on the Big Ten slate and one of the better quarterback pairings in the nation as UCLA's Brett Hundley leads his team against Taylor Martinez and the Huskers. Hundley torched Nebraska last year as UCLA piled up 653 yards in a 36-30 win. He doesn't have running back Johnathan Franklin by his side, however, and Huskers defensive end Randy Gregory looks to apply pressure. Martinez needs more signature wins to go along with his record-setting numbers, and this would be a big one. Both teams will wear helmet decals honoring Nick Pasquale, the UCLA wide receiver killed in an accident last weekend.

2 p.m. ET

Youngstown State at Michigan State (BTN): The Spartans' quarterback quandary continues, and it could be freshman Damion Terry's turn to try and get a troubled offense on track. Connor Cook will start under center, but fan favorite Terry might make his collegiate debut. Shilique Calhoun and Michigan State's lockdown defense faces a Youngstown State team averaging 47.5 points and 579 yards per game.

6 p.m. ET

Iowa at Iowa State (FOX Sports 1): It's only Sept. 14, but Iowa faces a virtual must-win against Iowa State, which has won the teams' past two meetings and owns a 5-2 record against Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium. If the Hawkeyes fall Saturday, it's hard to see them reaching a bowl with a tough Big Ten schedule ahead. Iowa's best bet is to get Mark Weisman and the run game going against a Cyclones defense that allowed 228 yards on the ground in its season-opening loss to FCS Northern Iowa.

UCF at Penn State (BTN): Lions second-year coach Bill O'Brien faces off against his former boss and mentor George O'Leary in a sneaky good matchup in Happy Valley. Penn State's defense will be tested by UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, whom O'Brien expects to play in the NFL. Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg must limit mistakes against a dangerous Knights defense.

Washington vs. Illinois (BTN): A surprising start for Illinois could turn into much more if it knocks off an experienced and talented Washington squad in its "Chicago Homecoming" game. Washington star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns from suspension and will be a load for Mason Monheim and the Illini defense. Illinois hopes to crank up its big-play offense early and often after recording 17 plays of 20 yards or more in the first two games, fifth most in the country.

7 p.m. ET

No. 4 Ohio State at California (FOX): Junior quarterback Braxton Miller (sprained knee) traveled to Berkeley but will be a game-time decision. If Miller can't go, backup Kenny Guiton will lead the offense against a leaky Cal defense that has surrendered 1,061 yards in its first two games. Golden Bears freshman quarterback Jared Goff, the nation's passing leader at 467.5 yards per game, will challenge cornerback Bradley Roby and the Ohio State secondary.

8 p.m. ET

No. 21 Notre Dame at Purdue (ABC): The Fighting Irish try to rebound from a frustrating loss to Michigan, while Purdue hopes to jump start the Darrell Hazell era after a poor start. A mismatch on paper, Purdue's spotty offensive line must contain Notre Dame star front men Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. The Irish have captured the teams' past five meetings.

9 p.m. ET

Western Michigan at No. 17 Northwestern (BTN): Despite the continued absence of star running back Venric Mark, Northwestern's offense marches on after an impressive showing last week against Syracuse. Quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined to complete 22 of 24 passes in the first half of last week's game and face a Western Michigan team that fell last week to Nicholls State. Northwestern needs to tighten up defensively before Ohio State comes to town Oct. 5. Tonight would be a good time to start.

10:30 p.m. ET

No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State (ESPN): The last game of the day could be among the best, as two teams that have looked dominant against poor competition square off. Wisconsin's defense hasn't allowed a point but should be pushed by Arizona State's potent offense led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four games. Wisconsin running backs James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement all have at least 250 rush yards and will try to control the clock and the tempo against a Sun Devils team that is 8-0 against the Big Ten at home.

  • Bloomington, Ind: Sunny, 64-70 degrees, winds at 4-5 mph
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.: Mostly sunny, 61-66 degrees, winds at 4-6 mph
  • Minneapolis: Mostly cloudy, showers possible late in game, 64-70 degrees, winds at 10-12 mph
  • Lincoln, Neb.: Partly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rain, 67-75 degrees, winds at 16-19 mph
  • East Lansing, Mich.: Mostly sunny, 62-66 degrees, winds at 6-7 mph
  • Ames, Iowa: Partly to mostly cloudy, 66-72 degrees, winds at 13-16 mph
  • Chicago: Mostly sunny, 61-69 degrees, winds at 8-9 mph
  • Berkeley, Calif.: Mostly sunny, 61-68 degrees, winds at 12-15 mph
  • West Lafayette, Ind.: Mostly clear, 52-63 degrees, winds at 3-4 mph
  • Evanston, Ill.: Partly cloudy, 61-68 degrees, winds at 8 mph
  • Tempe, Ariz.: Clear skies, 91-97 degrees, winds at 4 mph

And, finally, check out some of our top posts from this week ...

Big Ten predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
After two relatively easy weeks of picking games, the challenge gets much tougher with a delicious slate of Week 3 games. Last week, our picks mirrored one another. There will be some disagreements this time around.

Let's dive in ...


Brian Bennett: Bowling Green has looked terrific in its first two games, while Indiana's defense was all but absent last week versus Navy. Different styles, but I think the Falcons seize on the Hoosiers' weaknesses. They kick a field goal late for my not-very-special upset special. ... Bowling Green 37, Indiana 34

Adam Rittenberg: I had Indiana beating Navy and losing this game entering the season, so naturally, I'm picking the Hoosiers to win after falling to Navy. The defense bounces back a little against a more conventional offense, and Nate Sudfeld consistently attacks downfield to Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn. Sudfeld rallies IU in the fourth quarter and finds Ted Bolser for the game-winning touchdown. ... Indiana 38, Bowling Green 35


Rittenberg: Can you wake me when Minnesota finally starts playing someone? Quarterback Philip Nelson adds two more rushing scores as the Gophers pull away early in the third quarter following a Ra'Shede Hageman forced fumble. Then we can look ahead to San Jose State. ... Minnesota 37, Western Illinois 17

Bennett: There's not much interesting about this game, except that we get to throw around the word "Leathernecks." It's a good week to get Mitch Leidner some experience. ... Minnesota 35, Western Illinois 13


Bennett: I've gone back and forth on this all week, but in the end I worry that Nebraska's home-field advantage won't be enough to overcome its youth on defense. Brett Hundley amasses five total touchdowns, and the Huskers come up just short on their final drive. ... UCLA 38, Nebraska 34

Rittenberg: Nebraska's defense remains a big concern, especially against Hundley, but with no Johnathan Franklin, the early kickoff and a long trip, I expect UCLA to be a big sluggish. Martinez delivers a turnover-free performance in a big game and finds Quincy Enunwa for the game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute. ... Nebraska 35, UCLA 34


Rittenberg: UCF's Blake Bortles abused Akron for big plays in Week 1. Devin Gardner, eat your heart out. The Gardner-Gallon connection cranks up again as Jeremy Gallon hauls in two more touchdowns. Fitzgerald Toussaint goes for 120 rush yards and a score as Michigan rolls. ... Michigan 45, Akron 17

Brian Bennett: Akron has won four games since the end of the 2009 season. Notre Dame hangover? Maybe, but it won't matter one bit. ... Michigan 48, Akron 10


Bennett: Is Jim Tressel back coaching Youngstown State? Maybe then the Penguins would have a chance. The Spartans play Connor Cook and Damion Terry and get only two touchdown drives out of both of them. But the defense scores again. ... Michigan State 27, Youngstown State 3

Rittenberg: I'm tempted to go with the Penguins since Michigan State's offense is ice cold (be sure to tip your waitress). This will be close for three quarters, but Michigan State's Terry steps up late with a touchdown pass and a touchdown run (yes, two offensive touchdowns). Sadly, no touchdown for Bane this week. ... Michigan State 24, Youngstown State 10


Rittenberg: Do I have to pick a winner here? Iowa took a step back last week in many ways, although the power run stepped up when the team needed a lift. This will be a sloppy game on both sides, but Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock, along with the offensive line, prove to be the difference in the fourth quarter. ... Iowa 19, Iowa State 17

Bennett: Kirk Ferentz really needs this game. Then again, so does Paul Rhoads after losing to Northern Iowa in the opener. I don't expect many fireworks, either, but the Cyclones are just a little more desperate and have the momentum in this series. They win it on an overtime field goal. ... Iowa State 16, Iowa 13


Bennett: UCF is a trendy sleeper pick and has an experienced quarterback. But Penn State's defense is a major step up from Conference USA/American Athletic competition. It's close for a half, but Christian Hackenberg gets going in the third quarter with a pair of touchdown tosses to Allen Robinson, and Bill O'Brien tops George O'Leary. ... Penn State 27, UCF 17

Rittenberg: Tricky game for Bill O'Brien's crew, but I expect Penn State's defense to do enough against Blake Bortles and a talented UCF offense. UCF jumps out to an early lead, but Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch spark Penn State's rushing attack in the second half, each scoring a touchdown as the Lions prevail. ... Penn State 34, UCF 27


Rittenberg: Washington is the more talented and experienced team, and a lot needs to go right for the Illini to pull off the upset. I see another fast start for Illinois against a Huskies team that struggles on the road and might be a little sleepy following a bye week. Nathan Scheelhaase throws two more touchdown passes, but Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins proves to be the difference with 120 receiving yards and a score. ... Washington 31, Illinois 21

Bennett: I'd like to pick the Illini here because it would be a great story. They certainly proved me wrong last week in a big way. I still think Washington is just a little too talented, though. Keith Price throws four touchdown passes, making him the best quarterback Soldier Field has seen in a while. (That one's for you, Adam.) ... Washington 37, Illinois 23


Bennett: Cal played Northwestern pretty tough and then ... almost lost to Portland State? Inconsistency should be expected, I guess, with a freshman QB and a new coach. There are going to be a whole lot of big plays in this one, and I suspect Kenny Guiton will see the majority of the action. Big coming-out party for Dontre Wilson here. ... Ohio State 49, Cal 28

Rittenberg: Cal provides a nice test for Ohio State's young defense, but the presence of cornerback Bradley Roby should help hold one of the Bears' standout wide receivers (Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs) in check. Ohio State has too much at the line of scrimmage and will use its ground game of Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and Wilson to outlast the Bears. ... Ohio State 38, Cal 27


Rittenberg: The Boilers have shown me nothing to suggest they can knock off a team like Notre Dame, which is pretty darn good despite last week's loss in Ann Arbor, Mich. Purdue starts strong but can't finish two early drives. The Irish then take over with their rushing attack, led by Amir Carlisle, and force two second-half takeaways. ... Notre Dame 38, Purdue 17

Bennett: Circle the wagons, Purdue. It's going to be a long couple months. ... Notre Dame 35, Purdue 7


Bennett: Western Michigan just lost to Nicholls State. OK, then. Northwestern might not be quite as sharp after two big games, but it won't need to be. Kain Colter rushes for 100 yards and a pair of scores, and he and Trevor Siemian both get an early rest. ... Northwestern 38, Western Michigan 10

Rittenberg: Previous Northwestern teams might be ripe for a letdown, but not the 2013 squad. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian deliver another strong performance, combining for five touchdowns (three pass, two rush), including two scoring passes to Christian Jones. The defense forces two more turnovers as the Wildcats cruse. ... Northwestern 41, Western Michigan 17


Rittenberg: I just don't like the matchup for the Badgers, even though they've been so impressive early on. Arizona State's strength (pass game) goes up against Wisconsin's weakness (secondary), and although the Badgers control the clock with their run game, the Sun Devils hit in too many big plays. Too much Taylor Kelly in this one. ... Arizona State 35, Wisconsin 28

Bennett: I think big Will Sutton will be a shock to the system to Wisconsin offensive linemen used to dealing with the UMass and Tennessee Tech lines of the world. The secondary also gets burned a few too many times. Joel Stave throws two interceptions to thwart a comeback attempt, and Big Ten teams stay thirsty in the desert. ... Arizona State 28, Wisconsin 20.

Wait, we're not done yet. It's time for our guest picker of the week. Oh, you haven't heard? Throughout the season, we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

We found this week's picker in the desert: Adam Fraser from Gilbert, Ariz.

The floor is yours:
I'm a lifelong Husker fan living in Arizona. I'm a season-ticket holder and couldn't make it back for the UCLA game. I just started a new career at Prudential and my boss played football for UCLA. I've followed your blog for years and constantly smash your predictions. Let me put it on record at least one week, the Huskers biggest week of the year!! Thanks Adam (do it for your fellow Adam).

Other Adam's picks ...

Bowling Green 42, Indiana 40
Minnesota 30, Western Illinois 20
Nebraska 41, UCLA 37
Michigan 45, Akron 6
Michigan State 20, Youngstown State 13
Iowa 20, Iowa State 16
Penn State 24, UCF 13
Washington 31, Illinois 30
Ohio State 30, California 28
Notre Dame 38, Purdue 14
Northwestern 48, Western Michigan 10
Arizona State 34, Wisconsin 20


Brian Bennett: 22-2
Adam Rittenberg: 21-3
Guest pickers: 18-6

Big Ten mailblog

May, 14, 2013
The mail comes to you a little early today as I'll have coverage of the Big Ten spring meetings this afternoon.

Badger in Columbus from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Please explain giving the edge to Washington over Wisconsin. If it was a contest of which defense would give up more points then Washington is the obvious choice. Or is this one of those auto-correct errors. Maybe some form of hangover. Did you forget which teams were which.... Help me out.

Adam Rittenberg: I've received several similar emails from Wisconsin fans, and I'm quite frankly a little surprised. Wisconsin was a slightly above-average football team in 2012 that couldn't pass the ball, struggled in close games and only got to the Big Ten championship because Ohio State and Penn State were barred by NCAA sanctions. Both Wisconsin and Washington finished 7-6, and Washington beat two teams -- Stanford and Oregon State -- that Wisconsin lost to last season. The Huskies have a talented veteran quarterback in Keith Price, a solid running back in Bishop Sankey and one of the nation's best tight ends in Austin Seferian-Jenkins (currently suspended). Sure, the matchup might be a toss-up, but to say Wisconsin is leaps and bounds ahead of Washington is silly talk, especially after the Badgers went through a coaching change. You can't base these picks on how a program has done in the past decade (Wisconsin obviously better). You base it on the current teams and the upcoming season.

Matt from Omaha writes: People are worried about how the BIG West will be just as bad as the Big Twelve North, but they forget one key argument that no one seems to be talking about, COACHING STABILITY. The old Big Twelve North was actually really good before instability in the Coaching position affected Nebraska, Kansas State, and Colorado. I mean, during that time both Kansas (that?s right I said Kansas) and Missouri had pretty dominant programs for a short while. The fact right now is that the BIG West has enough stability at the coaching position to be competitive. Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa have had the same head coach for five years or more and each schools coach doesn?t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Had the divisional split happened two or three years ago, there wouldn't be such a problem in my opinion. Remember that time when Michigan was terrible under Rich Rod., when Ohio State lost Tress, or when Joe Paterno was fired? All these programs had faltered, but became more attractive when coaching stability came back to eaches respective programs. Nebraska will be competitive, so will Northwestern, and does anybody really think Ferentz is going to let Iowa fall far and let Iowa State take over as the top school in the state?

Adam Rittenberg: Good points here, Matt. Coaching stability is a big issue not only for the new Big Ten West division but throughout the Big Ten. We've seen coaching changes at eight of 12 programs in the past three years, and the lack of stability certainly has contributed to the league's overall downturn. Pat Fitzgerald doesn't appear to be going anywhere at Northwestern, but some would say this is a big season for both Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. I wouldn't put either coach on the hot seat, but there's some grumbling from both fan bases, and it wouldn't shock me to see either coach eventually leave for another job (Pelini in college, Ferentz in the NFL). Jerry Kill should remain at Minnesota for a while, as long as he remains healthy, and Gary Andersen has the potential to be a long-term answer at Wisconsin. Your point is a valid one, but I also think it's imperative that West division programs upgrade their recruiting efforts to keep up with Urban Meyer, Brady Hoke and Bill O'Brien in the East.

Adam from Chicago writes: Lots of excitement within Northwestern fan circles about the forming 2014 recruiting class. Is this class a sign that Northwestern is ready to become a legitimate contender for the immediate future or is this class just exciting because previous ones have been more average?

Adam Rittenberg: The recruiting uptick shows momentum is building at Northwestern. The combination of wins on the field, improved recruiting and, most important, the new lakefront facility being built puts Northwestern in position to be a more consistent division/league title contender. Northwestern's placement in the seemingly easier West division also helps. Pat Fitzgerald brought in some average recruiting classes at the start of his tenure, but the quality of recruits has improved in the past three seasons and 2014 has a chance to be the best yet. The question is whether Northwestern can continue to win 8-10 games per year as the schedules get a bit tougher in future seasons. Ultimately, it all comes down to wins and losses, but Northwestern definitely is bringing in more talent now than it was five years ago.

Aaron from Bettendorf, Iowa, writes: After getting engaged over the weekend we have been discussing possible dates. We both like Fall 2014; however, that prime time Big 10 football season. We are in agreement that it CANNOT be on an Iowa weekend. With the additions of Maryland and Rutgers next year it is hard to know the schedule this far in advance. Any ideas when we might have some clarity on this situation regarding bye weeks for next season.

Adam Rittenberg: First of all, congrats to you and your fiancée! The simple answer is to tell her, like I told my wife, that we had to get married in the spring or summer (wife still a bit peeved, by the way). If that doesn't fly, wait a few more weeks as the Big Ten hopes to release the 2014 and 2015 schedules by the end of May. The Big Ten would like to get all its significant business -- bowl lineup, future schedules -- finished by the presidents/chancellors meeting June 2. So sit tight for now and you should know the schedules soon. One thing in your favor is that Iowa will have two open weeks rather than one in the 2014 season, like it will this fall.

Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: Adam, like your choice of important games for Minnesota. Have you done any more in depth study as to why previous Kill teams have succeeded in their third year? I believe that there are three particular reasons - Kill's leadership, consistency of staff and the quality of his physical fitness coach.

Adam Rittenberg: All three of those factors undoubtedly have contributed to Kill's Year 3 success at previous spots like Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. Two other factors: he had more of his own recruits in positions to contribute, and every player had greater familiarity with his system. Former Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, for example, was recruited by the previous staff but redshirted the season before Kill arrived. He had two years to develop in the offense under Kill's staff before putting together a record-setting 2010 season -- Kill's third at the school -- in leading the Huskies to the MAC title game.

Jeremy from Columbus writes: You've said that Big Ten fan bases tend to frown upon games against the MAC, but why is this? Obviously we'd all rather watch a game against the Pac 12, but no team is going to schedule 12 games against BCS teams. If the Buckeyes demand on playing two 'cupcakes' each year, I'd much rather play local teams like Miami and Toledo than Alabama-Birmingham and Central Florida. When we played Miami last year, there were tons of Miami fans. Half the OSU students at the game had a friend from high school who had gone to Miami that they had been trash talking with in the week leading up to the game. In my opinion, that local aspect really helps build up the excitement for the game, even if the game itself usually isn't very good.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeremy, some great points here. Most fans don't understand why teams play cupcake/guarantee/gimme games in non-league play, and that's not a bad thing as programs should be pressured to challenge themselves and schedule attractive opponents for the fans. But the reality is these games will be played in some form (one per year, two per year), and there's value in playing teams from the same state or region. Ohio State has done this a lot over the years, and it helps that six MAC programs are located in Ohio. These are great opportunities for MAC teams to not only play on bigger stages but record signature wins. As long as Big Ten teams are playing at least one marquee game per year, I think there will be less grumbling about the MAC games. But it's also important for the MAC to keep improving as a league. Last year was a step in the right direction, but the MAC had been on a steady decline for a while. Most Big Ten fans will never get excited about playing MAC opponents, but if they understand the realities of scheduling and the benefits for playing in the state/region, they could start tolerating them.

Ryan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: No more Pretender or Contender? When will you finish the remaining schools?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, we actually completed the series last week with the Illinois post. You can check out all nine posts here. As we pointed out in each post, we considered Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska likely preseason top-20 teams and therefore bona fide contenders. So we didn't do polls for those squads. Maybe we should have for Michigan and Nebraska, but we didn't. There was some interesting voting. You guys don't think much of the Big Ten as only Northwestern was labeled a contender. Wisconsin finished with a 50-50 contender/pretender split. The voting for both Michigan State and Penn State was fairly even but leaned toward pretender. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue all were clear-cut pretenders, according to the voting.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 12, 2013
Wishing you a great weekend. We'll recap all the spring games on Monday, so be sure to check in early and often.

To the emails ...

Michael from South Sioux City, Neb., writes: If Taylor Martinez puts up HUGE passing numbers, say 65% pass completion, 3,000+ yards passing and lowers his INT's, what would his heisman chances be? And will he ever be given a shot to play QB in the NFL?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, Martinez certainly could be on the Heisman radar if he improves upon his already strong 2012 numbers and, as you mention, cuts down on his turnovers (not just interceptions but fumbles, too). He has national name recognition, which is critically important for the Heisman, and leads an offense that could be one of the nation's best. Martinez will have to separate himself as the Big Ten's best quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller obviously is in the mix, too -- and perform big in Nebraska's biggest games, which come mostly in November. I think Martinez has an NFL future, but I'd be very surprised if it's at quarterback. Although his mechanics are a lot better than they were two years ago, they're nowhere near as polished as they need to be for a league that wants quarterbacks with no glitches in their throwing motion.

Ryan from Surprise, Ariz., writes: With the expanding conference there is a need for more conference games. I've read the B1G is considering going to 9 or even 10 conference games with the goal that each team will play all of the other teams at least twice every 6 years or something like that. I'm wondering if they are considering rotating between 9 conference games two out of every 4 years and 10 conference games the other two out of every 4 years as an option at all. That way, with the 14 teams next year, each team would be able to play all of the other teams at least twice every 4 years. If the conference ever expands to 16 then it would require 10 conference games every year to maintain the same rotation. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, you present an interesting schedule model, but I haven't heard anything about the Big Ten rotating between a 9- and 10-game conference schedules in the future. From talking with multiple athletic directors and other league sources, the 9-game league schedule is all but finalized and will begin in the 2016 season (8-game schedule will remain in 2014 and 2015). Although there's some support for a 10-game league slate, it's just too ambitious at the moment, especially with the unknowns about the college football playoff. If and when the Big Ten expands to 16, the 10-game league schedule once again will get serious consideration.

Anthony from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: So with the draft coming up in 2 weeks, normally I'm looking forward to seeing which Hawkeyes are going to the next level. However looking over this group of guys on the block, I don't see a single one hitting an NFL practice field. question 1: your take on when and where they might go and question 2: when was the last time Iowa didn't send a single player to the NFL

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, while Iowa doesn't have its typical stable of NFL prospects this year, I think you're being a little pessimistic. Cornerback Micah Hyde and quarterback James Vandenberg were the only Hawkeyes players at the NFL combine, and while neither is a high-level prospect, I expect both to find their way into camps this summer. Hyde could be a late-round selection in the draft. Although Vandenberg had a lousy senior season, it had a lot to do with the system change. Could wideout Keenan Davis make a team? He'd have to really impress folks in individual workouts, but NFL scouts love Iowa players. The Hawkeyes have had at least five players selected in each of the past three drafts (2010, 2011, 2012). The last NFL draft not to include an Iowa player? 1977. Could we see that streak end this year? It's possible, but I think Hyde's name will be called.

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